Facing Main

Staying Put in a Restless World

Perhaps restlessness isn’t so much adventure-seeking as it is chasing a vague sense of how to live

By Maggie Doherty

I have a hard time sitting still. Always have, and part of my restlessness is tied to my strong urge to map the entire world. I think best when I’m on the move, whether for a quick break from my computer, walking to the mailbox and back, or driving cross-country with my family to see my grandmother’s cabin on Lake Huron. I like being on the go, and this goes back to my childhood. We didn’t travel much as a family other than the hour’s drive north across the Mackinac Bridge to the cabin on the island so it wasn’t like we did grand spring break vacations to tropical islands or ski out West. But my dad likes to wander and explore, close to home. Many weekends were spent driving around in his old pickup, following the web of dirt roads, more like ATV trails than a designated thoroughfare, through the dense hardwood forests of northern Michigan. Sometimes we’d stop at a river and get our feet wet. Sometimes we’d just keep going and going. I didn’t particularly mind, but I’m sure my dad might have a different perspective as I was often a whiny and petulant child.

Perhaps it was the waves of the Great Lakes that sculpted my youth, always in motion, and those Sunday drives that helped train my restless nature. Sometimes I find it surprising that I’ve lived in the Flathead Valley for almost 20 years now, when I had imagined myself as a person who’d live in many places before settling on a place to call home. It’s not surprising that 22-year-old me did stumble upon the prettiest place in Montana. I’d be nuts to leave. I love to travel, even with two young kids, who can make a trip to the grocery store a perilous and fraught journey. Growing up in a small town that everyone was trying to flee from, I equated moving on with success. It meant something big to leave. You didn’t dare get stuck in your hometown.

One of my favorite writers, Scott Russell Sanders, has a book about what it means to stay put. It’s called “Staying Put: Making a Home in a Restless World” and I’m rereading it as I’m feeling restless again even though the summer calendar is penciled in with camping trips in Glacier, and the annual trek across U.S. 2 to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Those upcoming trips should be more than enough to satisfy but yet my wanderlust still pokes at me. I dream about Europe, or the southwest, or even squeezing in a trip to Butte. Russell has lived his entire life in southern Indiana, in a town about an hour north of where I went to college, a place I raced out of to leave after I got my diploma. While I don’t share his enthusiasm for Indiana, I do admire his perspective on what it means to belong to a place. He writes, “Only by understanding where I live can I learn how to live.”

Nearly two decades in one place might seem like a long time to some, and to others, I’m still a tourist. Perhaps restlessness isn’t so much adventure-seeking as it is chasing a vague sense of how to live. I’ve become an adult in Montana, an education not for the faint of heart. Learning how to live in one place while dreaming about others, including a pork chop sandwich in Butte, is a delicate balance. Yes, the world is restless. Yes, I want to see it all. And yes, I want this place to be my home.

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